Is your agency business development “isolated” or is it baked in to your organizational processes? Chris Vitrano illustrates why three things are important for success: 1) Consensus, alignment and integration, 2) redefining sales in an opt-in world and 3) defining career paths for the business development role.
Christopher Vitrano is the Marketing Director for Nelson Schmidt, Inc., a full-service marketing communications agency with offices in Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin, named one of the top marketing firms in the country six consecutive years by “BtoB Magazine.” U.S. and international clients include ADP, Harley-Davidson Motor Company, Honeywell, McKesson and Polaris. Chris’ 22-year career spans a progressive range of agency creative, account service and business development roles — shaping his perspective on contemporary agency business development.
Chris, what is missing today from an agency’s business development strategy?
I look at it as missed opportunities. Speaking broadly, agencies tend to be myopic. We are focused on the day-to-day requirements to run a successful business while doing great work for our clients. The missed opportunity is the desire and capability to also step back and chart a longer range view and understanding of who our best clients are and why do they choose to work with us? To me, that’s pretty much the basis for any agency business development strategy to be formulated and acted upon.
Is it a lack of making agency business development a priority or is it the ability to allocate consistent resources to it?
As I mentioned, in today’s world, without treating business development as one of the agency’s functional disciplines — it’s always going to be a challenge for the organization to prioritize an on-going program and rationalize a corresponding resource plan of people, process and tools.
We frequently see an agency outsourcing business development but not integrating it into their processes – and then wondering why it’s not effective.
ARGH! Again, if it’s not baked into an agency’s process-driven organizational interactions, you end up with very misaligned views of the perception and reality of your business development investment. Executive management will have a different opinion than the business development officer … who’s opinion differs from the account services team … and the creatives don’t really care. In such scenarios, it’s not effective because there’s no easy way for the agency at-large to agree on what “business development” is and why the discipline is meaningful, on a daily and on-going basis, to the company and to each individual.
Do you think most agency owners’ expectations of their business development person’s efforts are reasonable, realistic or aligned based on today’s buyer’s market?
Social media has dramatically changed how we consume information, both personally and professionally. We now live in an “opt-in” world, and I’ve learned that agency business development must abide by this rule. Agency owners who understand this evolution tend to hire business development officers with social media acumen and the ability to establish and nurture a relationship-driven, rather than transactional-focused, prospect opportunity. If you’re still thinking it’s about “numbers” — just make X calls to get Y meetings to get Z projects — I don’t see that approach as a realistic strategy like it may have been before the social media phenomenon.
So yes, if an agency owner appreciates an opt-in approach to business development and acknowledges “it’s not who we know, but who knows us,” and what the buyer thinks of the agency will influence how they react and engage with our brand, then their general expectations of the business development role will most likely be realistic.
What else is missing in the agency business development puzzle?
A dedicated career path for the business development profession. I think in many agencies, bodies are still just put in chairs. However, it’s great to see that many agencies are putting more thought into creating a business development discipline, with the lead role having a seat at the management table as the shop’s chief marketing and a sales officer. That’s a pretty significant human resource, with a specific skill set needed to nurture qualified prospects into mutually beneficial business relationships that can be forecast financially over an extended period of time. You’d think given these optimal end results, especially on a national and international scale, agencies would be eager to establish career positions that will attract and retain top business development talent. Good news for the industry and the profession … more and more are doing just that!